SaaS growth marketing is a lot more complex than you’d think.
With all the moving parts — product, growth, customers, launches, and of course, profitability — it’s pretty easy to get lost in the weeds.
In this comprehensive guide to growth marketing, you’ll find what you need when it comes to how to successfully launch, market, and grow your product or service.
Whether you’re looking for growth traction, growth scale, or growth elevation, we’ve got you covered with this reference guide.
Here’s how it’s gonna work.
We’ve broken down this guide into sections that will cover everything from marketing and growth to customers and branding. Inside each section, you’ll find tips and tools to get you started.
Are you ready to start learning?
One of the biggest challenges a startup faces is how to market a product or service with both limited time and money.
It’s critical that you start the process the right way, so as your startup becomes an established company, you can scale your marketing effectively.
It starts with having a product or service that hits the right customers.
This is where growth traction comes into play as well. At our growth marketing agency Stimulead, we’ve seen firsthand how critical the startup marketing phase is, and why it’s important to know what marketing channels to use (and when to double down on them).
No growth hacking strategy on the planet will work if you don’t start off on the right foot with product/market alignment.
Customers and Products
Some startups make one big mistake.
They focus all their efforts on their product.
We don’t need to tell you doing that is the making of a potential disaster.
Yes, of course your product is incredibly important, but so much of your product’s success is going to be based on how well you understand your ideal customer.
After all, it’s your customers who are going to decide if your product or service meets their needs, solves their problems, and helps them fall in love with your brand.
If you aren’t speaking directly to them with your marketing, you’re never going to get very far, no matter how amazing you think your product is.
Finding the right customer doesn’t just apply to business to consumer (B2C) brands, but also business to business (B2B). Using a combination of “big” and “little” data to understand your potential buyers is a key part of the process.
Just because you think your product is awesome doesn’t mean customers will come running. Make sure you’re building the right product. This is the foundation of successful growth marketing — you won’t succeed without it.
This is where your product/market fit comes into play. As Marc Andreessen says a “Product/Marketing fit means being in a good market with a product that satisfies that market.”
Want more detail about product/market fit? Check out these posts:
- On Product/Marketing Fit for Startups
- The Startup Pyramid
- The Startup Guide to Finding & Measuring Product/Marketing Fit
Here’s a nice visual way to understand the product/market fit from the SlideShare A Playbook for Achieving Product Market Fit:
As you can see, hitting that sweet spot between the product and the market is vital.
Once you find that product/market fit and begin marketing, your work doesn’t end there. Nope, you must continuously look for and gather feedback.
That doesn’t mean feedback only after the product is done, or just learning what your final users think.
Do this through several channels like surveys, polls, emails — and yes even direct conversations with current customers and your target personas.
Why is this important?
Because it helps you to roll with the punches and adapt. As Harvard Business Review says:
“Startups are not smaller versions of large companies. They do not unfold in accordance with master plans. The ones that ultimately succeed go quickly from failure to failure, all the while adapting, iterating on, and improving their initial ideas as they continuously learn from customers.”
When your brand is open to both customer development and feedback on your product or service, you’ll be much more likely to connect with your ideal market through the improvements you’ve made.
SaaS startup marketing is not quite like other startup marketing.
Here are some reasons why:
- The sales cycle is shorter
- Consumers are much more dependent on information
- Your customers are looking for a long-term solution
- You’re really selling more of a service than just a product
When you add those up, it can present a product marketing challenge.
The good news is there are SaaS growth marketing strategies that have produced outstanding results.
Concepts like going next-level on customer support, positioning your brand as the expert in the field, optimizing your site for conversions, and focusing on providing high-quality information and education are all good places to start.
Want more? Check out some of these posts:
- SaaS Marketing: The Complete Guide for B2B Companies
- Essential Marketing Strategies for SaaS Startups
- How a SaaS Startup Does Marketing
Having a marketing plan is all well and good, but what about growth? Keep reading.
By now, we’re sure you’ve heard the term “growth hacking” floating around the Internet.
At Stimulead, we’re less into spending countless hours searching for “growth hacks” and much more into helping you turn your brand into a growth marketing engine. And, we’re not alone.
“Growth marketing” sounds better, right?
It’s important for every company — from startup to large organization — to embrace growth. Not only experimenting to find what works, but also having a willingness to go out on a limb and really test the impact on your business.
Dive into Growth
First, a look into what growth really is.
Put simply, growth is the intersection of marketing, testing, and engineering. The sweet spot, if you will — hit it at the right time and place and it’s a massive engine that propels your product or service.
Get a primer on growth hacking with some of these posts:
- A Beginner’s Guide to Growth Hacking
- What is Growth Hacking Really?
- The Definitive Guide to Growth Hacking
Growth Strategy and Team Building
Growth is about a lot more than testing.
No matter how many tests, trials, and experiments you run, you absolutely need to have two things in place to be successful: strategy and team building.
Yup, a strategy is needed when it comes to growth. You need to be able to not only map out your plans, but also think about how you can best execute them in order to actually achieve results.
GrooveHQ has a great overview of how they used a 12 month growth strategy to achieve their goals. They managed to avoid the trap that many startups fall into, which has been dubbed “delusional thinking” in this Andrew Chen post.
Once you have a strategy in place, it’s time to start building a growth team. And no, you don’t need a director of growth or VP of growth to do this right — though those roles can certainly help focus your efforts.
Here’s a comprehensive SlideShare deck on how to build a growth team:
The best teams have a combination of both diversity and expertise.
Of course, it’s always important to understand that both your growth strategy and growth team need to adapt and change as your brand hits different levels and phases of overall size and revenue.
Having the right combination of growth marketing, strategies, and team with your product or service can make all the difference.
The great thing about SaaS products, apps, and other digital products is it’s very easy to track all sorts of data.
This analytic capability alone can really give you a leg up on other types of startups — not only because the data is so incredibly valuable for learning about your customers, but also because it enables you to adapt very quickly when things aren’t working.
When it comes to measuring the overall success of your business, data is where it’s at. All types of data are valuable, but here are some excellent resources that will help you discover the most important data to track for your business:
- A Guide to Mastering Growth Hacking Analytics
- Lean Analytics: One Metric That Matters (Video)
- 4 Principles that Build a Metrics-Driven Company
If you haven’t quite embraced the importance of analyzing data, it’s time.
Learn how to analyze data, and then how to use that insight to drive the decisions you make in your business. You’ll remove much of the guesswork that can get you bogged down.
So, once you’ve decided to embrace data (woohoo), you need to understand which metrics are most important for your brand growth.
Of course, metrics will vary somewhat depending on what type of product or service you provide, thus a grouping of SaaS metrics can be slightly different from a grouping of consulting metrics. But the overall principles are the same.
Growth planning heavily relies on metrics, and if you aren’t using them to plan your growth effectively, you can get in trouble.
There are a number of metrics you should be tracking for growth. These include:
- Customer Cost Acquisition
- Monthly Recurring Revenue
- Customer Lifetime Value
- Churn Rate
Pretty much everyone is going to pay attention to those four metrics, but when you combine those with the data and goals you’ve set for your business objectives, you’ll have a solid foundation for success.
The key when it comes to metrics is to find the right mix that works for you. Learn more and discover that ideal metrics mix with these posts:
- 16 Startup Metrics
- SaaS Metrics 2.0: A Guide to Measuring and Improving What Matters
- 9 Metrics to Help You Make Wise Decisions About Your Startup
Now, how do you actually measure this data? There are plenty of tools to help get you started…
Thankfully now there are many tools you can use to not only measure your data and analytics, but also help you learn more about your customers.
While Google Analytics is a great start (and can be a great tool), there are more in depth analytics tools you should consider investing in, too.
You can find a comprehensive list of analytics tools with their descriptions here, but these few will help get you off the ground:
Now that you’ve got the tools to start measuring your data and analytics, it’s time to start diving deeper into your business model.
Monthly subscription, yearly subscription, no subscription, freemium? These are just some of the questions a brand needs to ask before setting up a business model.
Or perhaps, you’ve already come up with a model but it’s not hitting the growth strides you had planned and are looking for a change.
Regardless of what stage your product or service is in, having the right business model and pricing strategy is the foundation for your launch success.
Let’s look at a couple of different options for models:
- Premium vs Freemium vs Subscription
- The 5 Business Models that Provide Your Startup with Recurring Revenue
- 12 Different SaaS Pricing Strategies
None of these are the end all, be all when it comes to pricing. The key is to understand which strategy is going to work best for you. Be thoughtful in your decision, because if you choose the wrong one, you could see your product or service go bust.
A good place to start mapping your own business model is using the business model canvas.
Here’s a good video that speaks to pricing as well:
Once you have a solid pricing strategy in place, you can start ramping up towards your launch. This is where the fun happens!
Launch day is here. Are you prepared?
You must get your launch right to have any hopes of seeing success over the long term.
A huge part of an effective launch strategy is preparation. As much as the idea of “if you build it they will come” sounds amazing, the reality is quite different.
That’s why you need to have a strategy and an audience before you begin your launch. Without those two things, it’s a long road to building traction — and failure is all too common.
So what kinds of launch strategies are out there? Plenty. Here are some in-depth looks at launch planning and the steps you must take to boost your chances of launch success:
- 10 Steps for Successfully Launching a New Product or Service
- 14 Essential Elements of a Flawless Product Launch
- Launch Like Steve Jobs: 7 Ways to Build Buzz for Your Next Product Launch
One way we learn about what works and what doesn’t is by reviewing case studies of successful brands. These case studies on launches offer a ton of gold:
- How BuzzSumo Achieved $2.5 Million Annual Revenue in its First Year: A Case Study in SaaS Growth
- 5 Early Wins that got Our SaaS Startup 1,000 Beta Users
- 6 Lessons Learned from the Launch of Our SaaS Product
- Case Study: Growth Hacking Pre-Launch Revenue
After a successful launch, traffic growth is the next thing to focus on. Keep on reading to find out how to keep your business growth on track.
One of the big challenges that emerges as you go from launch planning to business growth is finding ways to continuously keep traffic growing.
After all, unless you continuously find customers who are willing to pay for your product or service, you don’t have much of a brand.
So, clearly a large part of your growth marketing strategy has to be tied to driving more traffic to your site.
Growth is one area where Stimulead knows how to help. As a growth marketing agency (aka growth hacking agency, though I don’t like that term nearly as much), we’ve got specific strategies to help your product or service get traction, make the right adjustments, and find the channels that work.
So what goes into growth? It’s a combination of a number of factors.
Quality Content for Content Marketing
Content is more important now than ever. But, keep in mind not just any content will do today. Consumers are continuously hit with thousands of pieces of content on a daily basis, most of which isn’t that great — so yours needs to stand out.
You need to have your content marketing game ready to roll in order to really see (and drive) growth. Here are a few guides to help you out:
- Welcome to the Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing
- The Definitive Guide to Engaging Content Marketing
- The Advanced Guide to Content Marketing
Once you have your content marketing strategy set, it’s time to begin writing great content. Remember, not just any old blog post will do.
Your content needs to be engaging, informative, and amazing. That typically means long-form content that both teaches your readers something and answers their needs.
Another important aspect has to be content distribution, that includes strategies like guest posting (a very beneficial way of growing traffic when done correctly), paid distribution, and social media.
Email and Social Media
Your blog isn’t the only place where you can attract and engage customers. A successful marketing strategy pays attention to other content channels like email marketing and social media as well.
Email list-building is one key method of growing a customer base. But that’s only one element of an effective traffic growth strategy. You need to be able to write everything from awesome sales emails to killer support emails in order to keep your email list and customer base coming back for more.
Social media as a marketing channel may be different today than it was a few years ago, but it’s still delivering explosive growth for companies. Here are some resources to help you capitalize on the opportunities:
- How to Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy from Scratch
- 5 Ways Startups Use Social Media for Growth and Success
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Most of your website visitors (and future customers) are likely going to come to you from search engine traffic. So, obviously, you should optimize your website in order to avoid any penalties and ensure your brand is getting search traffic.
In particular, you should pay close attention to your on-page SEO. Here’s a checklist to get you going. You won’t get nearly as much value out of your link-building activities if you’re lacking the critical elements that make up an SEO optimized page.
SEO is a lot more than just installing plugins and setting up a sitemap. It includes elements such as site speed, content presentation, and engagement with the page, amongst just a few key pieces.
If you’re a startup with a very limited budget, that doesn’t mean that paid traffic is out of reach. Here are some tips on growing traffic with paid marketing.
A strong paid traffic strategy involves one or more of these traffic channels:
Now that you’ve got a plan to get people to your website, you need to convert them into customers in order to see ROI from your growth marketing strategy.
Understanding and mastering conversion optimization is key for any product or service. Otherwise, all of your other efforts are simply going to waste.
There are two main places you should focus on when it comes to conversion optimization.
The first thing to optimize your website.
This is where you’re asking people to take action — like sign up for an email list, purchase your product, or opt in for a trial account. There are a number of best practices you can employ to help increase your conversion rate.
The second most important thing to optimize is your sales funnel.
It should go without saying, but you need to pay attention to the conversion rate of your sales funnel. Any small glitch or friction can actually be pushing customers away — which is the last thing you need (or want) when you’re focused on growth.
As always, we love to refer to case studies to learn what has worked (and not worked) for others. Here are a few to dive into:
- 100 Conversion Optimization Case Studies
- 6 Conversion Rate Optimization Case Studies with Surprising Results
- 7 Awesome Conversion Rate Optimization Case Studies
- SaaS Conversion Optimization Case Study
Once your website and sales funnel is totally optimized for your ideal customer, you’re going to be able to move much of your focus away from growing traffic and towards retaining the customers who are signing up for your product or service.
You’ve worked so hard to get customers for your product or service, the last thing you want to do is lose them.
Now, of course, you need to reasonably expect that some customers will churn. That’s just the name of the game. But if your churn rates are too high, your brand will quickly become unsustainable.
There are a number of customer retention strategies you can put into place — but the most critical aspect of an effective customer retention strategy is an amazing onboarding process. After all, most customers will start thinking about leaving your product or service very early in the process.
In order to keep customer retention rates high, you need nail down your onboarding process. These brands serve as great examples:
- A Guide to SaaS Customer Onboarding
- The Secret to Successful Customer Onboarding
- Killer User Onboarding Starts With a Story
While branding might not be the most important aspect of your overall growth marketing strategy, it still matters when it comes to selling your product or service.
Remember, that branding is all about your customer’s experience with your product or service. Everything you do online carries your message and story, and influences brand perception — from your social media accounts, to your customer service, to your logo.
Especially today, your brand has to be a lot more than just a logo. You need a personality, too. Something that helps connect with and attract customers in a very crowded and savvy marketplace.
Here are a few posts that feature the finer points of successful branding:
- Building Your Brand: A Guide for B2B SaaS Companies
- How Great Startups Build Brands with the Right Words
- 10 SaaS Value Propositions You Wish You Had
With the right message, your customers will find it easy to fall in love with your brand — and they’ll keep coming back for more.
The Next Step
Now that you’ve gotten to the end of this guide, you should be ready to build a growth marketing strategy that takes your product or service to the next level.
If you think this is a great overview, but you really want more support and guidance to drive growth, we can help. Contact Stimulead today and we’ll have a discussion on how we can grow your bottom line.